New study finds changes in farming practices can help the planet

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COLUMBIA - A new study released Wednesday by Climate Central found conservation farming practices can help promote healthier soil and increase resilience when it comes to extreme weather caused by climate change.

Ethan Miller, a Missouri farmer, knows about the importance of conservation farming.

He farms with his family in Audrain, Boone and Callaway counties.

Miller also works for the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The study, “Soil Solutions: Climate-Smart Farming in the Show Me State," looked at how much carbon could be stored in Missouri’s soil per year through different farming practices, such as modified grazing practices, like rotational grazing.

"We like carbon in our soil because that's our soil organic matter and as we increase our soil organic matter, we increase our water capacity, we increase the nutrient cycling. We can decrease nitrogen costs and things like that," Miller said.

Researchers found using cover crops, like ryegrass or clover, has the potential to offset and store the carbon pollution created from all cars belonging to residents of St. Louis and Kansas City combined.  

They also found the amount of carbon that could be stored in the soil each year through carbon-smart farming practices is more than double the annual carbon emissions from all sources in the city of Columbia.  

The study also looked at individual counties and the maximum potential for carbon savings.

It found counties in the Missouri Bootheel region, like New Madrid, have the highest potential for carbon savings.     

Because of extreme weather changes, farmers are facing new challenges every day such as flash floods, intensive heat and drought. The extreme conditions damage crops and cause soil erosion.     

Miller implements some of the practices when farming like rotational grazing, not tilling the ground and using cover crops.

“So cover crops have a lot of benefits," Miller said. "It could be for weed reduction, nutrient cycling, it could provide supplemental grazing — a whole variety of things.” 

MU Atmospheric Science Professor Anthony Lupo said Missouri’s climate has been changing. 

"It always has and of course we're noticing in the last 40 years that the temperatures have been warmer in the winter time and they have been warmer at night," Lupo said. "We're also seeing an increase in precipitation that we're seeing across the entire United States." 

Lupo said Missouri is changing a little more slowly because we're at a little bit lower latitude than other places. 

"The changes that we've seen in Missouri are not quite as drastic as they are elsewhere," he said. "The changes here have been fairly mild."

He said places like Russia and Canada are seeing faster changes in climate. 

"Changes in weather and climate affect us all and will have an influence on what we eat, how we work and even how we live," Lupo said.